Science Exchange Stories: Eli Skipp, science meets art

April 2, 2014 | Posted by Tess Mayall in Stories |

Eli Skipp is one of the most unique users we’ve had. She is an artist who finds fun and interesting ways to integrate technology and science into her art. She successfully used Kickstarter to raise money to get her brother’s RNA sequenced using Science Exchange. Now she is loom weaving the sequence into a colorful, physical representation of her brother’s bases.

I talked to her recently about her insight into art and science. Check out her original Kickstarter video and read about her unique perspective on art and science below!

Q: How did you get into this combo of science and art?

Eli: I’ve always enjoyed science in general, but never studied it. Last semester I asked this brilliant guy named Michael Bryant, the Head of the Critical Studies Department if he could do independent study with me. He answered all the questions I could come up with about genetics.

Q: How did you get the idea to loom weave RNA sequences?

Eli: DNA (RNA) and weaving/fibers go together very well metaphorically. A lot of fibers terminology is already used when discussing DNA (the idea of knitting, especially), and RNA is, as far as I know, involved in a kind of translation, so translating RNA was only natural. When diagramming RNA, the bases are often divided by color, so that helped to solidify the medium, but even before this project the idea of bases as colors really clicked with me. Originally I had wanted to translate this library of rhinoceros beetle mRNA that I have into friendship bracelets (rhinoceros beetles being my unofficial symbol), but I had put that idea aside. It was the original inspiration for the weavings, although the weavings are much more involved, personal, and symbolic.

Q: You have very interesting projects, what’s the most “out there” thing that you’ve worked on?

Eli: I don’t really think of my projects as “out there”, but in college I collected my boyfriend’s yawns in jars.

The project my department liked the most was this automated hoodie I made. I originally made it with a hood that went up when you pressed a button, but I later revised it with heart rate sensors, so that when your heart rate goes up, your hood covers and protects you.

I also really liked a project I made called “Assert Your Dominance,” which was a video of loudly barking dogs and if you barked loudly enough back they got scared and ran away.

Assert Your Dominance, complete. from Eli Skipp on Vimeo.

Q: All of these projects tread on that art and science line, do you tend to immerse yourself in these new subjects? What’s your process normally like?

Eli: It depends, I start with ten things that I want to build then I pair it down into what’s feasible. My thesis is about defense mechanisms, so that’s what I’m focusing on now.

Q: Do you any tips and tricks for people that want to crowdfund?

Eli: I mostly just followed all the tips they had and tried to create personal rewards that I would want to receive.

Q: Before you found Science Exchange, what were some of your options for getting the RNA sequenced?

Eli: Michael Bryant had contacted many labs, but I was overwhelmed by the options. So, I went on Twitter, asked for help, and someone suggested Science Exchange.

Q: How was your experience using Science Exchange?

Eli: It was really great. I started not knowing what to ask for or who to ask, so I quickly fumbled but was immediately helped. With the addition of people who helped from Twitter and Cindy from Microryza who helped me crowdfund, I was blown away. And it was really easy, especially for someone like me, I’m a total layman. The platform was indispensable.

Q: Do you have any advice for other artists that want to delve into science?

Eli: It can seem like a daunting process, because it’s a lot of information coming at once from a field you may not know well. But don’t worry about it, just dive right in, people are always very excited to share the knowledge they have of things they’re passionate about.

About the author

Tess Mayall builds Science Exchange’s online and offline community of scientists and providers. She is a geologist by training, but considers herself a friend of scientists near and far.

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